The Moon Gate at Blithewold in Rhode Island was built at the turn of the 20th century, but the form goes back to ancient Chinese gardens and remains popular today.
A moon gate is a circular opening, usually in a garden wall, which acts as a passageway. In China, where the gates were built in the gardens of wealthy nobles, various parts of the form and its ornamentation carry meaning. More generally, though, a moon gate is thought to offer an auspicious welcome or fortune to those who pass through. English gardeners borrowed the idea from China in the late 19th century. American gardeners immediately followed suit.
Moon gates are particularly popular in Bermuda, where they are often left freestanding rather than built into a wall. In Bermuda and elsewhere, a moon gate is often used in wedding ceremonies, with the newlyweds stepping through it for good luck in marriage.
A moon gate may be built of stone or brick, or be part of a stuccoed wall. Metal moon gates, usually freestanding, are one variation, dating to Victorian England. The wood arbor with a round arch, its pickets or gate rail beneath finishing the circle, is based on the moon gate.
American moon gates of note include the one at the entrance to the Astor Court, a Ming-style garden at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory moon gate at the New York Botanical Garden, which was modeled after one in Abby Rockefeller’s garden in Maine; and those in the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens in Pasadena, Calif.
Art & Science of the Moon Gate
Dave Araneo collects rocks—more specifically, unusual specimens that can be used as hardscape and garden features. He finds them on his property (part of an old granite quarry in Rockport, Massachusetts) and through his professional work doing landscape design and construction. At home, he has erected walls, walkways, and freestanding art, including two moon gates.
One of his first structures was the large moon gate, which he built in 1996. “Its one of the oldest technologies around,” Dave says. “You build a wood form, place the stones to either side, and build up. These structures have a wonderful energy.”
The large moon gate is built of cut stones. More recently, Araneo constructed a smaller one using flat pieces of natural, uncut stone [inset]. “I used a garbage can as the form, then kicked it out. The structure has survived storms . . . it may even survive the grandchildren!”
Moon Gate Resources
Metal Moon Gate
The Moon Gate Arch in powder-coated, galvanized steel from Harrod Horticultural (U.K.) comes in sizes up to 96" wide by 90" tall. Freestanding arches may be used as a transition between garden areas, a trellis for vines, or a frame around a bench. A similar item costs $425 through gardeners.com and kinsmangarden.com
Wood Moon Gate
Walpole Outdoors sells several round-top and moon-gate arches; the Seaside Custom Moon Gate is clearly Asian-inspired. In wood or cellular PVC with finish and paint-color options; custom pricing. walpoleoutdoors.com